Gambling addiction is a behavioral disorder characterized by a compulsive drive to gamble despite the negative personal and financial consequences of doing so. Like other behavioral addictions, gambling addiction follows along the same biomolecular mechanisms as drug addiction and alcoholism, especially the neural pathways associated with perceptions of both risk and reward.
When a person gambles, they take on a (usually) financial risk that increases the stakes for the outcome. This can create a feeling of heightened excitement which either pays off emotionally in victory, or causes disappointment and frustration in defeat. For individuals prone to addiction, that emotional payoff can be extremely addictive, especially when the wait for it is frustratingly prolonged by multiple failed attempts at winning.
This condition is exacerbated by the concept of luck, wherein the addicted gambler ascribes their lack of success to an imaginary and intangible cause. In clinical parlance, this is known as “magical thinking,” and it is often a clear indication that an addiction is spiraling out of control.
Like all addictions, gambling addiction commonly grows worse over time, causing the afflicted individual to seek greater emotional payoffs to achieve the same degree of satisfaction. This may mean making larger wagers, or seeking out betting opportunities with higher odds. Because a gambling addiction causes an individual to wager compulsively, gambling addicts are typically plagued by financial problems as a result of the disorder.
Treating Gambling Addiction
Like most addictions, treatment for gambling addiction requires both therapy and abstinence. However, abstaining from gambling is more challenging than it may appear. Even if an individual is able to stay away from casinos, racetracks, or bookies, they could still potentially trigger addictive behavior by simply purchasing a lottery ticket, or by engaging in dangerous life-threatening behaviors that effectively allow them to gamble wagering their very lives as the stake.
It is not uncommon for those with gambling addictions to also experience substance abuse disorders or other mental health issues, and dual diagnosis treatment options are likely to be the most effective in treating the disease.
When to Seek Treatment for Gambling Addiction
Individuals that are addicted to gambling tend to be aware that they have a problem, but are likely to be more interested in seeing their “luck” turn around than in seeking treatment. Please, if you experience any of the following symptoms, Next Chapter implores you to seek professional help.
- If you find yourself drawn toward risk-taking behaviors beyond gambling
- If you regularly bet on sporting events but don’t really enjoy watching sports
- If you have difficulty or are unable to stop yourself from gambling when you are low on funds
- If you hide your gambling activities from friends and loved ones
- If you lie about how much money you spend gambling
- If you find yourself being driven to place larger and larger bets
The Next Chapter Approach
Next Chapter takes a highly-personalized approach to treatment for all of our clients, beginning with a thorough psychosocial assessment completed by patient’s therapist and a psychiatric evaluation completed by our medical director. Later in the process we often will include a psychological assessment to aid in the diagnosis of the condition or conditions each client is facing. These initial evaluations are followed up by weekly visits with our medical director and patient’s therapist and supported by our clinical team approach in which each client’s unique needs and treatment are addressed by the entire treatment team. The team meets daily to discuss in detail each of our client’s needs.
Together, our clinical team will prescribe a course of action that may evidence-based treatments practices such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Solution Focused Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, EMDR and other Trauma focused modalities. Individualized treatment plans also include therapeutic groups, individual sessions, family work, and 12-Step education groups.